The Second Annual Eesti Jalgpalli Liit (EJL) Women’s Football Conference took place on April 9th at Hotel Olumpia, with a number of speakers contributing towards achieving the EJL’s two main aims: making girl’s football more popular and bringing more girls into football.
The conference was attended by a sizeable audience, and gave a glimpse of where women’s and girl’s football is currently at in Estonia, as well as providing some inspiring ideas for the future.
Presentations from Martin Preston of the English FA, Sara Booth of the Northern Irish FA and Keith Boanas, Estonian women’s national team head coach, provided attendees with a glimpse of the relative situations in each country, and some inspirational ideas for the future of women’s football in Estonia.
Kristiina Lind provided an interesting look at football-related knee injuries, before Mihkel Uiboleht rounded off the event with details of the FIFA Live Your Goals event planned for this year.
A Long Term Aspiration
Women’s football in England is already firmly established and has numerous plans and structures in place to try to keep recent momentum going. Martin Preston provided a glimpse of women’s football in England, and what Estonia can aspire to, with a newly developed elite performance unit in place, 7 national teams, 23 central contracts and 11th place in the FIFA world rankings. At present, 3,561 girls attend 63 centres of excellence and player’s development centres around the country, with the numbers of female teams 16 times higher than in 1993.
The use of taster and fortnightly sessions, with a smaller focus on competition and a higher focus on the social aspect of the sport, was highlighted as key to the aim growing participation. This was a theme prevalent throughout Martin’s speech, and he told RdS that the stigma of football being male-dominated is one of the biggest obstacles that must be overcome. Downplaying its masculine edge and focusing on fun, rather than competition, is a key consideration.
Martin also highlighted the support the English FA has received from the government to support girl’s football, something which the Estonian FA may find slightly more difficult to attain.
An Example to Follow?
While the English FA’s presentation provided a long term aim to aspire to, the Northern Irish FA had a story which the Estonian FA might see as an attainable aim for the nearer future.
‘SCORE’ was Northern Ireland’s FIFA-funded, UEFA HatTrick Award winning pilot project, which saw the Northern Irish FA given €50,000 to improve school-club links, assist development of clubs and improve the poor capacity levels within the clubs.
The money was split into three separate stages. The first of which was ‘education’; 50 volunteers were provided with bursaries to undertake coach education courses, which then enabled them to deliver in-school coaching sessions. Additional commitments from clubs saw nominated coaches sent to further courses and conferences, along with the NI FA providing specially branded resources to help development.
The results of this stage saw three key events organized to help engage potential audiences. A Health & Wellbeing Conference, Club Administration Workshop and a PR & Marketing Workshop delivered key information to club officials, players, parents and coaches.
The second stage was ‘development’. 12 coaching sessions were held in local schools to help achieve the aim of improving school-club links, and initiatives to help educate volunteers on how to run clubs were introduced.
‘First Kicks Development Centers’ were set up at U9 and U11 level, engaging 84 young girls in football and providing them with the opportunity to give football a try in a perfect environment for their needs.
26 SCORE coaches also ran 197 sessions in 120 schools across the country, resulting in 105 new players registering at clubs, which was a fantastic return.
The final stage was ‘competition’. This came in the form of Easter and Summer Camps for girls, and the entry of teams in local leagues and development centres. 213 players attended 16 Easter camps, 51% of which were new to football, and 242 players attended 12 summer camps. 32 teams (320 girls) took part in Small Sided Leagues, whilst 34 teams (420 girls) attended the IFA Girls Football Festival.
The launch of the project itself saw 22 SCORE coaches attend, along with the IFA President. Each coach received equipment, clothing, a coaching syllabus and relevant documentation to help them with their development, and to enable them to carry out the long term aims of the project.
The impressive indicators of success that followed the programme included:
- 278 players joining clubs
- The creation of 5 new junior teams
- 38 female coaches undertaking education courses
- The establishment of school-club links
- £20,636 worth of media coverage
- Crucial lessons learned
o The need for different models for different developmental situations
o Engagement with parents and coaches is crucial
Keith Boanas alluded to the similarity in situation between Northern Ireland prior to the project, and Estonia currently, highlighting the SCORE project as an inspirational success story and a potential model to follow. The education of female coaches and the recruitment results were particularly poignant in terms of where Estonia finds itself in terms of girl’s football, and resonates with the EJL’s current aims.
What does this mean for Estonia?
30 million women currently play football worldwide, and it is one of the fastest growing sports. Girl’s and women’s football is on the increase in Estonia as well, with 33 teams now in the girl’s league, 26 established women’s teams and 16 grassroots teams now in place. There has been some success further afield too, with a number of Estonian players moving abroad to play for reputable clubs, and Pärnu JK having taken part in the women’s European Champions League.
As much as these are positive signs, the need for continuing growth and innovation is evidently clear. FIFA’s ‘Live Your Goal’s will take place on May 10th in Tallinn, Tartu and Pärnu, to promote the sport to young children and to encourage more adults to get involved as coaches.
Alongside this, a 6-year schools project will see 26% of Estonian schools visited, with an educational book and plan created for sports teachers in order to improve the quality of coaching provided and to encourage links between schools and clubs. A festival at A le Coq Arena will supplement this as a means to generating further interest in the game for both players and potential coaches.
These are certainly positive plans, particularly when compared with the SCORE project that saw women’s football in Northern Ireland flourish following a similar plan of action. If the EJL can implement these plans and build on their successes, there is no reason why they themselves can’t be the ones giving a similarly inspiring presentation to other developing countries in the near future.